On Wednesday morning, two journalists in Virginia were shot and killed by a gunman while they were on air.
The victims are just two of the more than 8,400 people in America who have died from firearms in 2015. According to the Washington Post, the US has averaged one mass shooting per day this year. The country has more homicides per capita than any industrialized nation on the planet.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Some countries have been able to solve their gun problems — and Australia is a prime example.
The trend hit a breaking point in April 1996.
In what became known as the Port Arthur Massacre, a 28-year-old with “significant intellectual disabilities” bought a semi-automatic rifle without a licence, visited a popular tourist destination in Tasmania, and used that gun to kill 35 people and injure 23 more.
Devastated and enraged at the ease with which murders were taking place, Australia’s conservative-led government decided Port Arthur was the last straw. The country needed tighter laws when it came to owning guns.
The solution was two-pronged — and swift.
Within two weeks, Prime Minister John Howard had convened his assembly, then known as the Australasian Police Minister’s Council, to discuss the terms of a nationwide ban on the import of automatic and semiautomatic weapons and pump-action shotguns.
While owning guns was still legal, the ban came with a dizzying number of restrictions and even more numerous — and harsh — penalties.
On May 10, 1996, the resolution passed.
Implementation took place in stages over the next few years. People were granted a 12-month amensty beginning in October of 1996, when they could sell their guns back to the Australian government. More than 700,000 firearms were collected and destroyed in that time, making it the single-largest destruction of civilian firearms of any country between 1996 and 2005. An estimated $US500 million was paid back to former gun owners.
Immediately, the rate of gun deaths started falling.
As Australian economist Andrew Leigh found in a 2010 review of the effects of the gun buyback legislation:
• Firearm suicides have dropped from 2.2 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.8 per 100,000 in 2006.
• Firearm homicides have dropped from 0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 per 100,000 people in 2006.
• These are drops of 65% and 59%, respectively, and among a population of 20 million individuals, represent a decline in the number of deaths by firearm suicide of about 300 and in the number of deaths by firearm homicide of about 40 per year.
• At the same time, the non-firearm suicide rate has fallen by 27% and the non-firearm homicide rate by 59%.
What can the US learn from Australia?
The big thing: gun deaths can be greatly reduced, given the proper legislation. A buyback in the US would be outrageously large — destroying 40 million guns is a massive undertaking. But progress is possible.
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